ICANN meeting a preview of an internet without American oversight

The Heritage Foundation blog The Daily Signal has a report on a meeting in London of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that gives us a look into the future of what the internet will be without American oversight.

President Obama refused to renew ICANN's contract with the Commerce Departmnet last March. The move threw open the door for internet control to groupings of hostile, undemocratic countries who seek to prevent the free flow of information.

It should be said that this is not the intent of the US government. But given that stakeholders like Russia, the Arab states, and especially China have made it plain that seizing control of the net from the US has been their goal, it should give us pause that ICANN has come under fire.

The first controversy involved France’s attack on ICANN after it failed in its bid to freeze allocations of the ‘.vin’ and ‘.wine’ domain name suffixes. France argued allocation of these domain names should be subject to safeguards designed to protect the integrity of intellectual property and brands critical to the French wine industry, such as “Champagne” and “Bordeaux.”

Following its failure, the French delegation announced, “Today ICANN is not the appropriate forum to discuss internet governance” because “ICANN’s procedures highlight its inability to take into account the legitimate concerns of states.”  To remedy this, France called for the establishment of a new international organization to govern the Internet with a “one country, one vote” system.

France  may have a legally sound basis for its demands, but if the Internet is to grow and remain free, governments cannot be allowed to dictate ICANN decisions. France’s tantrum plays into the hands of authoritarian countries who would eagerly embrace an inter-governmental body for Internet governance they could use to expand their efforts to censor and regulate web content.

The second controversy involved  a rebuke to ICANN that took the form of  an unprecedented unanimous statement from all the stakeholder groups and constituencies that make up ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization expressing their unease with ICANN’s current lack of transparency and accountability:

“The entire GNSO join together today calling for the Board to support community creation of an independent accountability mechanism that provides meaningful review and adequate redress for those harmed by ICANN action or inaction in contravention of an agreed upon compact with the community.  This deserves the Board’s serious consideration – not only does it reflect an unprecedented level of consensus across the entire ICANN community, it is a necessary and integral element of the IANA transition.

THe current contract with ICANN expires in September, 2015. The plan is to have some governing mechanism in place before then that will guarantee an open, free internet. But is that possible?

Taken together, these controversies clearly illustrate that ICANN does not enjoy the trust of governments or of the Internet community. This makes it imperative that the U.S. not end its role in the assignment of Internet names and numbers before adequate checks and balances are put in place to ensure that an independent ICANN, acting without U.S. oversight, is transparent and accountable to the Internet community it is supposed to represent and cannot be hijacked by governments or intergovernmental organizations.

It may be inevitable that the US cedes control of most internet functions to the international community. But to do so without proper safeguards is asking for trouble.There are countries that will try to manipulate or game the system in order to  impose their own idea of "freedom" of the internet on the rest of us. To stop them, it's going to take a lot more than good intentions and a desire to be liked in the world.


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